A loving and approachable coming-of-age story about generational change.

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STAY, DAUGHTER

Strict traditions face encroaching modernity in this memoir of a Muslim girl.

The author was a jeweler’s daughter in Ceylon, now known as Sri Lanka, in the community of Galle Fort—at first blush, a traditional Muslim neighborhood. But in the 1950s, things were changing; already, the women of the island went out more than they had in years past and veiled themselves less. Before she reached the age of 12, Azad was allowed to spend time with her Christian friend Penny, ride a bicycle, and wear a bathing suit in public, and her doting, conservative father (whom she calls “Wappah”) was rarely unable to deny his daughter’s wants. However, her father still was committed to “the fierce protection of female honor” and still expected the women of his family to make a “good marriage,” so the author was “brought inside” when she came of age. But she was still interested in furthering her education and charmed by her English friends and Western comic books, so she hoped to attend university in the near future. But after her cousin ran off with a young man and Wappah reacted to the situation in an unexpectedly violent manner, subtle changes to custom and culture became more difficult to achieve. Azad’s debut memoir focuses on her memories of childhood and how she struggled against the more stringent aspects of her Muslim upbringing. However, her story is also the story of Galle Fort as the old-school residents struggled with young people becoming more Westernized. The setting is beautifully drawn, and its history comes alive. Just as important is the author’s father’s journey as a man who’s open to change but unsure of it. The book introduces many facets of Muslim culture with great respect, and Azad stingingly portrays Western prejudices, as when the author’s classmates face ridicule for using henna. She also relates her older family members’ opinions on such subjects as marriage while showing just how radical seemingly small changes can be in a traditional environment.

A loving and approachable coming-of-age story about generational change.

Pub Date: Jan. 3, 2020

ISBN: N/A

Page Count: 249

Publisher: Perera Hussein Publishing House

Review Posted Online: March 24, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1, 2020

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A penetrating work of family history and self-reflection.

BRITANNIA STREET

In this memoir, a retired psychotherapist attempts to untangle a relative’s personal life as a way of understanding her own.

Cox first heard the story of her great-grandmother Elizabeth from her parents when she first got married—how the woman had borne two children out of wedlock and how no one, even their descendants, knew who the children’s fathers were. The story held a special significance for Cox, both because she shared her great-grandmother’s first name—Elizabeth—and because the author had gotten pregnant with her first child when she was an unmarried teenager. It was not until 2004, four decades later,in the aftermath of her marriage’s dissolution, a disastrous love affair, and a severe depressive episode, that Cox decided to try to find out the truth of her great-grandmother’s life: “I have a strong feeling that there is something in it I need to discover….In order to find myself today, I need to know where I have come from, who my ancestors were and what that means for me.” The retired author set about to understand the life of that other, earlier Elizabeth through research and travel; while doing so, she began to unpack her own difficult adolescence, which was further complicated by fears brought on by her parents’ poor health. Cox, a psychotherapist, uses her expertise to delve into her own psychology as well as that of her great-grandmother. Here, for instance, she speculates on how Elizabeth’s experience with her own father (an ill man, like Cox’s own) affected her: “Did Elizabeth shoulder more of the burden than a twelve-year-old girl should have to?...Children did work in the mills at a very young age and there would be no money coming in if William couldn’t work.” Overall, the author manages to excavate quite a bit from the historical record, filling in gaps with a novelist’s sense of narrative. Although there are no real groundbreaking revelations here, she manages to say quite a bit about the complicated dynamics of families—many of which seem to repeat themselves generation after generation.

A penetrating work of family history and self-reflection.

Pub Date: Sept. 1, 2021

ISBN: 978-1-78864-933-9

Page Count: 236

Publisher: Cinnamon Press

Review Posted Online: April 16, 2022

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A well-crafted, tender collection that emphasizes exploration.

ECOLOGIA

Tonnessen’s poems examine transitions and transformations in all their danger and beauty.

In her debut collection, Tonnessen knits together images that, however disparate, depend in some way on the notion of crossing and redrawing boundaries—most significantly, those reflecting her experiences as a transgender woman. References range widely—pop culture, religion, myths and fairy tales, other poets, birds and flowers, and contemporary events, like Covid lockdowns. In “Theosis,” for example, the speaker is shaving her legs, seemingly a quotidian act but one connected with her hard-won project of claiming her feminine identity: “I want to be a real girl. I want this one thing.” She’s visited by Sophia, considered in the Orthodox Church (Tonnessen’s academic focus is Slavic studies) to be the sainted, feminine personification of divine wisdom. Sophia tells the poet she’s been listening all along and trying to respond, assuring her, “I want you to be a woman too.” The poet asks to be called by their shared name, signifying their mutuality: “(Whisper it to me / like you love me). Whisper it like you want to be inside me.” This conclusion fulfills the poem’s title; theosis means transformation into union with God. Tonnessen’s sprawling poems often employ pauses or unfinished lines, sometimes to convey wry or fraught understatement. As throughout the collection, the speaker works her way from anguish to a deeply felt sense of spiritual union (with herself? with Sophia?): “I will lay with you in the sun until / we both burn swim with you in the river til we both drown,” then “Dance with you until / we are tired / and no longer ashamed.” It’s particularly moving that the speaker in these poems, so often distracted by porn or TikTok or Netflix, continually achieves lyrical moments of grace that feel utterly authentic, making these seeming dislocations into a connected whole and a beautiful manifestation of her experiences.

A well-crafted, tender collection that emphasizes exploration.

Pub Date: Oct. 12, 2021

ISBN: 978-0-9913780-1-2

Page Count: 118

Publisher: Unbound Edition Press

Review Posted Online: Oct. 21, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15, 2021

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